Buying Trees

balled-and-burlapped, or B & B

When buying trees there are three common ways in which they are packaged.  Covered here are those packaging methods and comparing how each holds up to successfully growing tree types.

*Many plant types are also packaged like trees,
especially when buying plants online or through plant catalogs.

Regardless of plants or trees, when transplanting know your soil type. 
If not certain, see soil testing methods.  If soil quality is poor,
add new soil or a soil amendment.

Container Growing Trees -

  • There is usually a good variety of trees available and in many sizes.  It is usually best to purchase these in smaller sizes where the roots are more established.  This is because the plant won't suffer transplant shock as badly as larger trees with larger established roots can. 

    The down side to purchasing a tree from a small container is they can become root-bound, or have girdling roots.   Girdling roots are a densely, tangled mass of roots on the sides of the root ball or wrapping around the root ball.  When planted, a deformed root system will leave the tree searching for water.  This can also inhibit growth.  Height and width growth can hinder along with growth of foliage, flowers or fruit.

With  container gardening growing in popularity, it is important to make sure trees are not becoming root-bound within their pots.  Pull tree or shrub and examine the roots. A dense, tangled mass is indication that it may be root-bound. 

If this is the case the tree or shrub will require cutting regardless if moved into a larger container or into the soil.  The tighter a root ball is the more it needs to be broken up.

  • Containerized trees and plants are different.  These are grown then dug up at nursery and placed in container with enriched soil. 

    The best time to start transplanting these is in late spring.  Don't break up unless roots are clearly circleing around within the soil. 

Buying Bare root Trees

  • Also called 'Whips', these are convenient, lightweight and easy to plant.  When buying trees the upside is that this is a less expensive option.  The downside is these can have the highest rate of mortality if not handled correctly.  Many garden catalogs will ship products this way.

    Bare root trees are dug from the nursery in either spring or fall.  The soil is removed then kept in a controlled, humid environment and will arrive dormant.  Although they can hold for several weeks, it's best to plant immediately.  Roots can be broken off when they are dug up at nursery, but the key to is keep the roots moist until ready to plant combined with no exposure to wind or sun.

       When planting prune away any damaged or diseased
      roots and branches.  Straighten and then spread roots.

    When planting cover the roots with soil, avoiding any rocks or debris. Gently raise and lower the tree while continuing to add more soil.  This is done to eliminate air pockets. When hole is full, tap and fill with water. The goal is to remove air pockets.  Continue to fill hole with soil and water until tree is completely covered.  Do the same for bare root plants.

Buying Trees - Balled and Burlapped

  • Balled-and-burlapped trees are dug from ground where most of root ball is in tact.  These are trees that are larger when purchased and planting, let alone they are very heavy.  'B and B' are more expensive and mildly susceptible to transplant shock.  They will hold for several weeks but after planting watering is important.

    When buying trees that are balled-and-burlapped make sure soil is not dry within the soil ball as this can damage roots. Always lift by the bottom of soil ball not by the tree stem.  Use a wagon if no tree transplanter is available.  Cut twine and remove any wire supports without loosening or breaking soil ball when ready to transplant tree into ground. 

    Once inside the hole in the ground, water slowly to saturate the soil ball when to remove air pockets. Finish filling the hole with soil and tapping down regularly while continuing to water.

             No burlap should remain above the soil surface.
            The burlap can act as a wick and dry the root ball.

  • Evergreens should not be planted later than October.  This is so the roots will have a chance to become established before cold weather.

Packaged Plants and Trees

  • Many mail order plants, trees and shrubs can also come Packaged.  Treat plant cutting the same as if they are bare-rooted.  It's best to plant them in early spring before growing season starts.  Store them in a cool, low-lit area until it is time to plant. 

           Many of these nurseries with gardening catalogs
                                send specific instructions.


  • When purchasing plants, roots get established more quickly in smaller pots than those in larger pots.  If transplanting plants from smaller pots with established roots, they may suffer transplant shock more quickly than those in larger pots.

  • When planting any container plants remove carefully from container and gently break apart, especially if root-bound.  It is recommended to do the same even if in a bio-degradable pot.

  • Once planted most tree trunks gain there strength by two seasons.

Related Articles:

Transplanting Trees
After buying trees plant them successfully with these tips.

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